A little help from our government.

The ARS people are getting serious about this. The latest edition of the American Bee Journal, August 2009, page 755, outlines their approach for studying ‘The Importance of Microbes In Nutrition and Health of Honey Bee Colonies’.

This is the third part of a series of articles. The first two pretty much cover the same ground as discussed here at Beesource.

The ARS will use a metagenomic approach to detail what critters are found in various kinds of bees, under different seasons, environmental conditions and colony health. I think this is important research to follow and will be the leading edge of bee research. It could certainly help quantify what many of us have observed.

More From Sweden And The ARS

Page 1169 in the December 2009 American Bee Journal describes more research concerning those beneficial critters in a bee’s stomach. From it, I gathered the following:

  • 13 species of lactic acid bacteria were found in the bee’s stomach
  • the bacteria are unique to the bee
  • the bacteria don’t originate in flowers or pollen
  • they kill food spoiling bacteria
  • they kill honey bee pathogens
  • completely suppress foulbrood in bee larva
  • compliment the bee’s immune system
  • they kill bacteria commonly found in infected human wounds
  • are viable in fresh, uncapped honey less than two weeks old
  • ferment bee bread
  • preserve honey
  • fresh unheated honey is a great probiotic
  • results have been replicated in Sweden and by the ARS

The implications of this research are profound, both for the bee and for us.  And it confirms what many natural beekeepers have known for years:

  • anything internal or external that messes with the bees internal bacteria wrecks bee health
  • fresh unprocessed honey is best
  • heating/processing honey destroys its healthful qualities

Probiotics For Bees And The Latest Research

The Swedish researchers have patented a probiotic bee mixture. But why wait. The latest research shows that the beneficial bacteria found inside a bee’s stomach persist, for a time,  in honey and bee bread. Like always, the bees do it best for themselves. A comb of fresh, uncontaminated bee bread and honey is the ideal source of bee probiotics. But there are problems:
  • seasonally scarce
  • difficult to maintain
  • viability difficult to evaluate

Pollen Patty

Another option might be to use fresh honey and bee bread to inoculate a pollen patty mixture. The reduced sugar concentration of a pollen patty might allow the bacteria to live longer.

If a commercial pollen substitute is used, one should be selected that doesn’t contain some kind of preservative that would inhibit biologic growth.


A liquid mixture is cheaper, easier to maintain, and apply than a pollen patty based probiotic. And it reduces the risk of introducing diseases and contaminates if the pollen is purchased and not trapped.

Nothing is known about kombucha and bee lacto bacteria. But using fresh honey, instead of sugar, and bee bread added to the mix is a good start. My own experience with kombucha indicates that the bacteria involved survive in a range of temperatures for months. Let’s hope it’s the same for the bee’s bacteria.

A kombucha based fresh honey/bee bread mixture could produce a kombucha scoby inoculated with bee’s lacto bacteria. The scoby is a zoogleal mat comprised of symbiotic bacteria and yeast. Multiple and continuous batches can be produced using the scoby as a starter.

Sugar Syrup

Maybe it’s the ultimate solution. But my personal experience indicates it lacks the stability and consistency found in a kombucha based culture.

And a pure sugar solution probably wouldn’t have the necessary nutrients for a thriving probiotic culture.


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